The next step in project planning after defining project objectives is Task Definition. This involves breaking down the project into manageable tasks that can be conceptualized. Studies have shown that the human mind can only handle up to 7 bits of information at a time, making it difficult to cope with complex tasks. A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a useful tool for simplifying project complexities. The WBS helps to identify all tasks to be performed, allocate resources, estimate task durations and budget, develop a working schedule, track performance, and assign responsibility. The number of levels in the WBS depends on the project complexity. Programs and projects differ in size and complexity, with program managers managing project managers and having strategic responsibility for relationships between projects. The project manager is responsible for their own project.
There is no set answer on how far to break down work, but a simple guide is to break down the work until you can estimate accurately, consider the smallest units of time for scheduling, avoid excessive planning, and never assign a task to multiple people. The WBS provides a framework for realistic schedules, cost estimates, quality and risk management, human resource selection, procurement and contract management, and project reporting. Scope changes are usually a response to changing priorities from clients or stakeholders, and the project plan, including a detailed WBS, is necessary for managing these changes. The project manager’s challenge is to manage these changing needs effectively to meet the client’s requirements.
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a document that helps break down the work that needs to be done into manageable components within a hierarchy. It acts as a large ‘to do’ list and plays a crucial role in developing the Project Management Plan. The WBS breaks work into work packages, activities, and tasks. Each descending level becomes more detailed and defines the project work more accurately. The main objective of the WBS is to ensure that the project includes all necessary work while eliminating the unnecessary work.
When developing a WBS, follow these steps:
- Identify the final product of the project.
- Define the major deliverables.
- Break down the major deliverables to an appropriate level of detail.
Helpful hints for developing a WBS include:
- Each WBS item represents a single deliverable.
- Each WBS item represents the sum of all subordinate items.
- Each subordinate item must have only one ‘parent’ element.
- Each item is unique within the project.
- The coding system must be applicable to all reporting structures for the project.
A WBS is commonly broken down into three levels, but the number of levels can be adjusted to suit the project. The number of levels depends on the level of detail, extent of risk, level of control required, accuracy of estimates, and work package value.
To determine the level of detail required:
- Check if the WBS item contains more than one type of work. If yes, go a level deeper.
- Can cost accuracy be improved by additional levels of breakdown? If yes, go a level deeper.
- Can the timing to complete the item be adequately decided? If no, go a level deeper.
- Can specific resources be assigned to the WBS item? If no, go a level deeper.
- Is there only a single resource required for the item? If no, go a level deeper.
Once a WBS is completed, analyze individual tasks to determine resourcing levels and competencies needed to undertake each task. Establish an effective structure that assigns all project activities appropriately and ensures that all project team members have a clear understanding of their project responsibilities and how they relate to the delivery of the project.
Managing time is a crucial function within any project, as the saying goes “time is money”. If a project is completed within an acceptable cost, time, and quality, most other issues can be overlooked. This makes project control one of the most important functions of project commitment. Time management can be broken down into four sub-functions: planning, programming, monitoring, and control.
Planning involves identifying the steps that the Project Management Group plans to take towards executing the project, such as what the objectives are, how they will be achieved, and what resources will be used. Programming involves recognizing realistic time and resource constraints that may affect the plan’s execution.
Monitoring can only occur when the plan and program are in progress, and it involves measuring what is happening against what was expected to happen. Monitoring also includes analyzing past events, recognizing trends and their future plans, and conveying conclusions to the rest of the project team.
Control is essential to the project’s success because it involves recognizing what has happened, what the consequences will be, and what steps need to be taken. For example, taking steps to prevent undesirable impacts or ensuring continuation. Control requires taking overt action to ensure that the project’s objectives are met.
Preparing a Time Management Program is crucial for the success of any project. It involves creating a graphic presentation of all project-related activities necessary to achieve the required objectives. The thought process behind the program is key, as it allows the Project Manager to coordinate and facilitate the efforts of the entire project team throughout the project’s life. The program is a living document that can be modified as the project progresses and unforeseen changes in scope or timing arise.
To control the project, progress must be periodically monitored and compared to the Master Program. Project management is all about reducing risks and strengthening predictability, with the long-term payoff greater than the short-term cost. Many project managers are action-oriented and tend to act first and think later, which can negatively affect their overall performance and reduce the effectiveness of their project team.
For a program to be effective, it must be understood by users, provide a basis for measurement and control, highlight critical tasks, be flexible and easily modified and updated, based on reliable time estimates, conform to available resources, and compatible with plans for other projects that share the same resources.
The development of any project Master Program involves several necessary steps, including defining project objectives, breaking down the work to be accomplished (WBS), sequencing project activities, estimating activity durations and costs, reconciling the project Master Program with the project time constraints, and revising the program.
Project objectives must be attainable, definitive, quantifiable, and within time parameters, and are identified during the planning process. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a checklist of the work that must be accomplished to meet objectives and is a tool used by the project manager to become fully familiar with the project’s scope, reducing the chances of a task or activity being overlooked. The WBS consists of Phases, Activities, and Tasks, representing the package of work required to complete the entire project. Each task should have a clearly defined beginning and end, with specific criteria for measuring performance.
Scheduling is crucial, and most projects today have deadlines imposed. The starting time for the project is often constrained by factors outside the project manager’s control, such as specifications, people, or materials that will not be available until a certain time. The result is that the work must be done within the boundaries of the constrained starting time and the imposed deadline.
An activity may be defined as any task, job, or operation that must be completed to finish the project. Reconciling Timing Constraints involves determining the anticipated duration of the entire project, identifying critical path activities, and quantifying the amount of “float” for all non-critical activities.
For small projects, the Milestone Chart method is the simplest way to track progress. This method displays completion dates, but does not show start dates or relationships between tasks.
The Gantt Chart was designed by Henry Gantt during World War I to help plan and control projects, and it is still used today, especially for small projects. Most people find it easy to understand because it uses bar charts. Although it is difficult to show the interdependence of activities, it is easier to show overlapping activities than with either the CPM or PERT network.
For larger and more complex projects, the Gantt chart was not sufficient to show the logical relationships between activities. In response, several network planning techniques were developed independently of each other in the 1950s. The first of these was the Critical Path Method (CPM), followed closely by the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and the Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM).
CPM and PERT are mathematical analysis techniques that use charts with nodes to identify activities connected by arrows. CPM calculates float in the project, while PERT emphasizes milestones or key dates. The PDM also uses nodes to represent activities with connecting arrows to show dependencies.
Chapter 6 of the Guide to the PMBOK provides detailed descriptions and applications of these and other techniques. Project management software packages now use network analysis and planning techniques based on the PDM approach.